Immunity

Defendant May Not Sue His Public Defender for Legal Malpractice in a Civil Rights Suit

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Louis Reed (“Reed”), an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections, sued state’s attorney Dora Mann (“Mann”), his public defender Judy Steele (“Steele”), Susan and Don Wall (the “Walls”), and Judge Ronald Slemer (“Judge Slemer”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights during his sentencing hearing.  Reed asserted that the Walls wrote a letter containing false statements to Judge Slemer, who presided over the hearing.  Mann allegedly placed the letter into Reed’s file as a victim impact statement despite knowing the Walls were not victims, and Steele permitted this without alerting Reed until five minutes before his hearing.  Judge Slemer then allowed the letter to be read at the hearing. Reed asserts this caused him to be sentenced more severely, and sought monetary damages.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois dismissed with prejudice, explaining that “none of these individuals […] can be sued for damages pursuant to Section 1983.”   Id. at 1.   With respect to Steele, the court explained that “the law is clear that a party may not sue his attorney for legal malpractice in a civil rights suit, and this principle holds true even if that attorney was court-appointed and employed by the state.”  Id.   As for Judge Slemer and Mann, the court stated that judges are protected by absolute judicial immunity when being sued solely for a judicial act and that a prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under Section 1983 for simply initiating prosecution and presenting the State’s case.  The Walls were likewise improper defendants because Reed did not indicate that they were acting under the color of law when they wrote their letter.  Even if that could be proven, any alleged slander or defamation “are not actionable under Section 1983.”  Id.

Reed v. Wall, No. 19-cv-01190-NJR, 2020 WL 2129962 (S.D. Ill. May 5, 2020).

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

Guardians Ad Litem Protected by Quasi-Judicial Immunity

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When she was eleven years old, Alexis Nichols (“Nichols”) received $600,000 as part of a settlement for injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle accident.  The probate court appointed her mother as guardian to administer her estate and David Fahrenkamp (“Fahrenkamp”) as guardian ad litem.  On reaching majority, Nichols sued Fahrenkamp for negligence in failing to adequately scrutinize her mother’s improper expenditures or report such irregularities to the court.  Nichols also asserted that Fahrenkamp never met with her, consulted with her regarding her mother’s actions, or even told her of his appointment.  Fahrenkamp moved for summary judgment, arguing that the order appointing him only required that he provide recommendations regarding Nichols’ best interests.  Having fulfilled that obligation at the Probate Court’s direction, he claimed quasi-judicial immunity from liability.  The Circuit Court granted Fahrenkamp’s motion, but the Appellate Court reversed, holding that “outside the antagonistic context created by litigating parents, guardians ad litem do not need protection from unwarranted harassment and do not require quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶9.

Fahrenkamp appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which reversed.  The Court explained that the primary issue was what Fahrenkamp’s function as a guardian ad litem was.  Determining that would establish whether Fahrenkamp’s role was sufficiently connected to the judicial process to warrant immunity.  The Court explained that, “rather than looking at the title ‘guardian ad litem’ to determine whether Fahrenkamp has quasi-judicial immunity, the court must consider what function he performed.”  Id. at ¶16.  To that end, Fahrenkamp defined his role based on the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/101 et seq .).  Nichols disagreed, claiming Fahrenkamp’s role was defined by the Probate Act (755 ILCS 5/art. IX).  The Court agreed with Fahrenkamp, noting that “most Illinois cases in the twenty-first century that involve a guardian ad litem treat that guardian ad litem as a reporter or witness and not as an advocate.”  Id. at ¶35.  By contrast, “cases in which the guardian ad litem represented a ward as an advocate” were from earlier in Illinois’ history.   Id.  Moreover, the Court cited to “other state supreme courts” which have “granted immunity to actors who fulfill a comparable function” even though “no Illinois court has specifically considered whether this position merits quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶42.  The Court cited to federal appellate courts as well, which have found that “ guardians ad litem are immune when their function is to report to the court on a child’s best interests.”  Id. at ¶43.  With that, the Court held that “guardians ad litem who submit recommendations to the court on a child’s best interests are protected by quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶49.

Nichols v. Fahrenkamp, 2019 IL 123990

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

Recent Illinois Case: Davidson v. Gurewitz

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A child representative appointed by the court in a divorce proceeding is absolutely immune from legal malpractice claim.

Davidson v. Gurewitz, 2015 IL App (2d) 150171

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Recent Illinois Case: Vlastelica v. Brend

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Among other things, this recent case reaffirmed the absolute immunity provided to court-appointed child representatives.

Vlastelica v. Brend, 2015 IL App (1st) 142524.

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Vlastelica v. Brend, 2011 IL App (1st) 120587, ¶ 22, 954 N.E.2d 874, 352 Ill. Dec. 791)

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Vlastelica v. Brend, 2011 IL App (1st) 120587, ¶ 22, 954 N.E.2d 874, 352 Ill. Dec. 791)